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Torrey Pines Golf Course still a San Diego round worth remembering

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
Torrey Pines Golf Club - North course
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You're going to tee off with a lot of expectations at world-famous Torrey Pines Golf Course. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

Some say it's overrated, but you still want to play TV star Torrey Pines Golf Course. From dramatic ocean views to monster trees and scrounging squirrels, this famed San Diego-area muni will leave you with plenty of memories.

LA JOLLA, Calif. - The squirrels attack Daren Bowles' golf bag almost on cue. They scrounge around, get in a few pockets. And for probably the first time all day on Torrey Pines Golf Course, Bowles feels like a pro.

After all, Torrey Pines' infamously fearless squirrels always go for Tiger Woods' bag too.

"The squirrels burrowing in your bag definitely adds to the atmosphere," Bowles said, laughing. "I don't know what they were looking for in my bag. I had nothing."

Now he has some Torrey Pines memories.

This municipal jewel on the seaside cliffs near San Diego is known for many things: dramatic ocean views, PGA Tour events, busting muni stereotypes. With the U.S. Open coming next year, even its tee-time policy has gained national attention.

Still, many golfers who actually play Torrey Pines bring up the squirrels first.

If, like Bowles, you play Torrey Pines North, the animals show real theatrical flair. They don't just pop out on any old hole. They come out on Nos. 5, 6 and 7 - the holes on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific, where golfers are most likely to be distracted.

On No. 6, a par 3 that runs toward the ocean, a mountain lion could pounce on your golf bag and you might not notice.

It's easy to get lost in Torrey Pines. There are going to be things that surprise you though. Forget the bright green you see on TV when the PGA players are here. Torrey Pines isn't in bad shape, but the conditions are more muni than resort course. There are patches of light brown in the fairways, and your lies aren't going to be perfect.

Indeed, one of Torrey Pines' little secrets is that in the slow build-up to the 2008 Open, the North course is often in better shape than Torrey Pines South, site of the upcoming major. The South is a course in transition, getting a USGA makeover.

It makes no difference to a lot of average golfers; many enjoy the North more anyway.

"If you're a low-90s-to-mid-80s player, the South will eat you up," said local Hal Hartley, who plays here weekly. "I think the North course is actually more enjoyable for most of us average golfers."

Take the respective first holes. South's climbs up a hill and takes a sharp dogleg turn. North's also goes up - you can't see the green from the tee - but it's as straight as a Mormon.

You'll get your golf postcard whichever course you play, though. The par-3s on both unleash a torrent of shutter-clicking.

"I hear the North is a great course too," David Gunas Jr., that barefoot-golf-playing pseudo celebrity from Big Break II, said right before teeing on No. 1. "I'm pumped to play it."

Some golfers get so pumped at the prospect of playing Torrey Pines that they end up leaving disappointed. This is one of those golf experiences that come freighted with expectations. Most golfers arrive with a mental picture of how their Torrey Pines round should play out.

"It didn't live up to what I thought it would be," Phoenix golfer Jordan Ross said. "Some of the views are even pretty ordinary.

"I guess it looks a lot more impressive if you're flying over it in a TV helicopter."

Torrey Pines isn't as showy as many modern courses. In terms of over-the-top visual thrills it's nowhere near Trump National L.A. or Myrtle Beach's Barefoot Resort Fazio.

Rather, Torrey Pines impresses with creative design, the little curves and rises in the fairway that effect your shots.

And the trees - hulking monsters (called Torrey pines but looking more like big cypress to the untrained eye) that loom over the fairways, constantly forcing you to shoot under or cut around them. On the doglegs, a bark shot is en ever-present possibility.

This is a club that requires some old-school golf patience - fitting in a place where you step up to a vintage glass starter's booth and get called to the tee box by a scratchy loudspeaker. All the titanium bomb drivers in the world won't guarantee you a good score here.

Torrey Pines Golf Course: The verdict

Torrey Pines is one of those courses you want to be able to say you played. There are those who say it's overrated - that it wouldn't have nearly the same cache if it didn't get so much TV time. There's probably some truth to that. But you still want to play it.

"I don't think you'll ever regret playing Torrey Pines," Chicago golfer Blaine Edwards said.

Unless you get suckered. Don't get taken in by those $500-plus-a-night stay-and-play packages at the nearby hotels, thinking you need to lock up a tee time. The Lodge at Torrey Pines, right off the clubhouse, is particularly proficient at building mystique for these "deals."

Truth is, you can walk on Torrey Pines most days and play for around $140. And you can find a great hotel for far less than $400 per night in San Diego.

Those squirrels don't charge extra.

"I didn't lose a single ball," Chicago golfer Don McLean said proudly.

He lost a sandwich though. Torrey's squirrels win again.

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Torrey Pines Golf Club - Par 3s

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • A Round on Torrey Pines North Course

    Ryan Martin wrote on: Dec 30, 2010

    I played the North Course during my honeymoon in November 2010. This was certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity, being able to play a PGA course and it did not disappoint. While challenging even from the white tees, I didn't feel worn out at the end of the round. The fairways are fairly wide open allowing for some fade off the tee. The greens rolled pretty fast, which made the short game a fun challenge. The rough did come into play at times, but wasn't a hurdle with every hole.
    I loved how on almost each and every hole you had the beautiful scenery of the Pacific Ocean as a back drop (esp. Hole #6, the signature hole for the course - my only par for the round!). It was certainly a fun round of golf, both being able to play and take in the surroundings.
    The pro shop staff and other personnel around the course were very friendly and helpful. If you ever get a chance to go out to San Diego, I would certainly recommend taking in a round at Torrey Pines. It is an opportunity you won't want to pass up, on a PGA course (and US Open course) that is worth the value for the challenging and fun round you are sure to enjoy.


  • Golfing at Torrey's South course

    Jim Stergar wrote on: Oct 22, 2007

    I recently golfed at Torrey's South course and would have to disagree with anyone saying it's overrated. Are people looking for better grass? For more flowers or waterfalls? Aren't the ocean and cliffs enough? It's as tough a course as you'll find. Most of the par 4's are really 5's. Par should be 78 or 80. The length alone will get you. Add everything else in and you're in for it. So.... to those who think it's overrated... what the heck are you talking about? Please explain. - thank you!